Police are looking for a person who dumped a large amount of chlorine into a pool for sick sea lions at a Southern California marine mammal rescue and rehabilitation center last week, leaving the sea lions with eye burns.
Seventeen sea lions being treated at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach were reinjured when the chlorine entered the water filtration system and contaminated their pool habitat.
Fifteen of the marine mammals have been diagnosed with varying degrees of corneal ulcerations. Eight have healed since the attack, but seven others are still receiving veterinarian treatment, Laguna Beach police said.
Local news from across Southern California
A Pacific Marine Mammal staff member arrived at the rehabilitation center around 6 a.m. Tuesday, April 28. The employee smelled a "really strong odor" and noticed that the seventeen sea lions were out of the pool water.
Some of the sea lions eyes were "all puffed up and swelled up," Sgt. Tim Kleiser said.
Prior to the attack, the mammal center had given most of the sea lions a "clean bill of health," and they were due for release into the wild the following day.
Police believe the poisoning occurred sometime between 8 p.m. Monday, April 27, and 6 a.m. Tuesday, April 28 and are interested in speaking with anyone who may have seen anything unusual. City surveillance footage is currently under review, Kleiser said.
Detectives from the Laguna Beach Police Department are conducting a joint investigation with investigators from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, according to a police statement.
There has been an "unusually large increase" in the number of California sea lion pups stranding on the beaches of southern and central California, according to a recent report released by NOAA. Rescue centers have taken in hundreds of starving and sickly sea lions that have washed up along California's coast.
Those responsible for the attack could face thousands of dollars in fines and jail time. The perpetrator(s) are facing both state and federal charges, Kleiser said. Poisoning sea lions is considered a violation of California's animal cruelty code and the Federal Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Anyone with information is asked to contact the Laguna Beach Police Department's Detective David Gensemer or Abe Ocampo at 949-497-0377 or NOAA hotline at 1-800-853-1964.